When inclusion gets real…an opportunity to act differently

Elisa Lopez

Programme Manager for the Global Standard for CSO Accountability

At a time of much crisis and self reflection for the sector, it has become clearer than ever that to connect with people, stay relevant, and convincingly convey a positive narrative about our work and what we can achieve together, civil society organisations must do more to walk the talk on diversity and inclusion (D&I). This is indeed an opportunity to act differently to be seen differently.


Recounting a different year… 


Events in 2020, from the Covid-19 pandemic, BlackLivesMatter movement and recent CSO scandals, have led civil society to self-reflect about the sector and adopt different perspectives and approaches that address structural problems such as inequalities in gender, race, disability and sexuality in the sector’s workforce.


As a sector, we are becoming more willing to acknowledge that there is still lots of work to do to ensure diversity and inclusion (D&I). This is an important step forward, however taking action to improve our practices, including in the ways we respond to other big challenges the sector faces, is where our new normative commitments to D&I will really be put to the test. 


We have seen how people can unleash their power and take the lead in discussions or decision-making processes so as to have a positive impact on their own lives. There are now new ways for civil society to come together, to shape this emerging new reality and drive change for a more just and equal world. This is a chance for innovative approaches to be truly mindful of including those who are so often excluded. 


Why Diversity & Inclusion?


I love the working definition of Diversity by the CIVICUS DIGNA group because they make it clear that a free and safe space in which complex perspectives, differences and intersectionality are to be celebrated as strengths and opportunities for innovation, acceptance and collaboration. For this to happen, trust is essential. Only when a place at the table is guaranteed for people to be represented, can you start practising inclusion.  I’m not saying that this is easy but it is definitely needed. 


Inclusion is the action point of diversity, a dynamic and continuous process that works on multiple political, economic and social levels, and leaves no one behind. It is about interaction, creating meaningful connections and seeking to meet the unique needs of disenfranchised populations.


Default actions, inertia, shortcuts or the belief that one time solutions are enough to solve the problem, can prevent us from bringing real change. New approaches need to be seen as a process that is continuous and always present in our work. But what defines the way you are working? Is it the internal policies of your organisations? Is it social norms? Or is it a previously set structure? We need to understand why these current structures exist and the power dynamics within them, to know how to create change. 


And guess what? Dynamic Accountability can contribute to making inclusion a real thing! It can be an enabler to transform the way we have been working, and guide CSOs to showcase their work in the sector and learn from one other. Practising this ongoing approach to accountability can contribute to an environment that nurtures open and meaningful conversations, and where inclusion becomes more than just listening.


Continuous communication that leads us to reflect, learn, include peoples’ voices in decision making and close the feedback loop should be practised. And by building horizontal relationships and meeting people where they are, we can build the trust and ownership required for communities to exercise their rights.

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Achieving inclusion through the Global Standard


The Global Standard and its 12 commitments is a practical and adaptive tool that helps organisations to carry out Dynamic Accountability and can serve as a guide to transformational change. It can help you embed Dynamic Accountability into your organisational culture.  For change to be sustainable, principles of D&I need to be taken into account across organisations actions and strategy, and this needs to be reflected internally as well as externally, so we can “walk the talk”.


Internally, the Global Standard will guide you to improve organisational practices involving your staff and volunteers in decision-making processes. It is not only important that employees are valued, respected, accepted, and encouraged to fully participate in the organisation, it is also about providing safe spaces and the right tools to collect inputs from staff and volunteers, and be able to close the feedback loops while managing expectations. Inclusion refers to a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging. We can see examples of how CSOs have adapted inclusion practices in 2020 at Restless Development: they collected ideas from staff on how to cope with the challenges faced as a result of Covid-19, by involving more people in decision making. These ideas and solidarity meetups were implemented to improve the way they work, with global engagement from their staff. These practices were met with high satisfaction by Restless Development staff. 


The same can happen externally, by including the principles that will guide organisations to bring the people that they are working for and with to the table and let them use their power by ensuring they are at the driver’s seat. 


So all of that to say that…


People are demanding real change, social justice and equity. Even if you are starting the change, don’t get too comfortable, continue to challenge the system, the policymakers and also yourselves. 


It is not only about being constructive and proactive in our narratives but also being mindful of who narrates and how this shapes our decisions and actions. Let’s be accountable in a different way, let’s diversify our teams, strive for co-creation when we develop programs, policies, strategies; look to balanced ideas and discussions and bring everybody to the table!


To solve structural problems, we need structural solutions. This is an opportunity and also a responsibility for our sector to keep adapting, involve actors from different sectors and engage in difficult conversations. And in doing so, we will be far more likely to help foster more equitable ground for people to participate in the work of civil society and make sure that excluded voices are well represented. Let’s lead by example and shift the power!

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